The greenhouse at Karuturi Limited, situated along the Moi South Lake road, which is now in dilapidated state after years of neglect. (Photo: Macharia Mwangi | Nation Media Group)
Eight years on, collapse of Karuturi flower farm haunts Naivasha town
By Macharia Mwangi
From afar, the vast farm looks like a veritable wasteland with overgrown bushes and metallic bars standing stoically in the middle.
Tattered greenhouses amplified miles away sum up the lows the former giant flower company Karuturi Limited has sunk into, since the firm’s glory days.
Only those old enough can recall the beauty of the multiple roses that donned the now bushy fields…lingering memories that form part of historic moments.
Weather vagaries have rendered the prized greenhouses a financial waste. Nothing appeals anymore…the roses have withered, so is the one-time bulk flower growing company.
When the firm thrived, business flourished. The ripple effect is telling. The fast-growing commercial outlets within the farm setup are struggling for survival.
Most of the high-end investors are opting out after the company wound up having read the signs of the times. Only part-timers are keeping up with the “lazy” paced business.
The once well-kept workers’ houses are an eyesore, crying for a fresh lick of paint. The then, ultra-modern hospital with state of the art equipment and private mortuary to boot –are now a shell.
An emblazoned dilapidated gate relights the nostalgic times that workers at the company were accustomed to.
A number have died due to desperation. At its peak, the company captured the global imaginations of flower lovers and was regarded as a market leader in the international arena.
The defunct flower company- was one of Kenya’s best-known stand-alone farms on the 188 hectare Sher Agencies, which was a producer of cut roses.
Placed under receivership in February 2014 the world’s number one exporter of cut flowers quickly buckled.
Sher, as the company was referred to after its establishment in 1986, was exporting tens of millions of roses a year, and offered good pay to workers compared to its competitors.
The sinking fortune of the flower sector in Naivasha is magnified by the death of Karuturi with several other companies struggling to stay afloat.
In 2018 another giant flower growing company, Naivasha-based Oserian Development Company limited announced a move to diversify its commercial activities.
The move, the financial team noted, was necessitated by the global flowers business that has “evened out” between supply and demand keeping profits at an almost flat rate, coupled with high local production costs, eroding profitability.
In the process of reorganising, the farm amalgamated its three farms into one unit to centralise operations and free land for the new developments, with the company claiming that the centralisation as having significantly reduced the cost of operations.
The farm was utilising more of its geothermal new unit unlike before when a few greenhouses were powered. It has also introduced electric cars whose batteries are charged with geothermal power leading to saving on trucks, fuel costs, and reduced carbon footprints.
Naivasha, according to experts is no longer the bedrock of flower growing and is being overtaken by other regions
The Kenya Flower Council chief executive officer, Clement Tulezi, is alive to the fact, acknowledging that the lakeside town was slowly losing its lustre as a market leader.
“Naivasha has lost its niche in the flower sector. Some of the farms that were earmarked for the expansion of the lucrative industry are being developed for commercial purposes, including real estate,” he said.
In the yesteryears, he explained, international investors trooped to the lakeside town in search of land to grow flowers but it is no longer the case. “Then, investing in Naivasha was a natural choice for flower growers due to the conducive environment and the water from Lake Naivasha,” added Mr Tulezi.
He said flower investors are now looking elsewhere for investment, citing places such as Mt Kenya, which he noted was expanding rapidly unlike Naivasha.
“The sad reality is that there is no land for expansion in Naivasha. Agricultural land has been subdivided for commercial purposes like real estate and other ventures,” he said.
Proximity to Nairobi
Mr Tulezi attributed the change of land use in Naivasha to its proximity to Nairobi and the demand for housing units outside the hustles and bustles of the capital city.
“We have people who now prefer staying in Naivasha and commuting to Nairobi, further fuelling the change of agricultural land to commercial purposes,” said the KFC boss.
He said currently there were about 50 vibrant flower growers in the lakeside town with the number having stagnated for years, compared to other regions.
But former Nini flowers general manager Philip Kuria was of a different opinion, citing several companies that were on an expansion path, including his former workplace.
“Several companies have bought land elsewhere within Naivasha just to grow flowers. It is not at the speed that speculators were used to, but it is not gloomy at all,” he said.
He, however, admitted that there are no new companies that have set base in Naivasha for the past decade apart from what he referred to as “Take-over and Expansions.”